Duterte: the Bully Presdient

Bullying and Politics in the Philippines

Bullying and politics often go together. Any effort to stop bullying is both admirable and quixotic. Bullying is encouraged in many communities. Bullies are often looked up to and some of them become politicians. Let me tell you what I saw as I was growing up.

Siga and maton were part of my childhood in the slums. People fear them. We gave way to them when they walked towards us, almost bowing to show they were powerful. Siga is the tough guy. Maton is the neighborhood bully.

Young kids look up to them. We watched them as they beat up someone. They are like the action heroes on TV during the time of Marcos. In those days, action heroes were street gangs who beat up people. Or a siga (tough guy) who dared to cross the maton (bully).

It was a case of life imitating the movies. And the film magnifies how we live in the slums. So, when I was young, I came to believe that violence is a common thing.

Bullying and politics grow together.

When Rodrigo Duterte campaigned for the Presidency, his stories regaled the ordinary folks. He told them that he was not too bright (but his propagandist claimed he was a genius).

He said that he did what bullies and troublesome children do in schools. He said that he must have killed someone with a knife. He claimed that he molested a housemaid. He bragged that he killed hundreds on suspicion that they were drug addicts—all of which he claimed during the campaign.

On the other hand, his propagandists claim that he is a generous man. They claimed that he made his city one of the most peaceful cities in the world. People did not question the source. People did not bother to check that his city was in the top five in the number of murder and rape cases.

It was like in the movies. The siga and the maton, tough but generous guys, are loved in the neighborhood.

In 2016, we elected a bully to the Presidency. Our fellow citizens believed in fake news and propaganda because they are like the movies that entertained us during Marcos’s time.

Many of us, bystanders, never grew up.

So, you can say that my writing about bullying is political. That’s true. It is also social and educational.

Bullying Is Political.

Because the way elections are won in the Philippines shows that bullies have the qualities we expect from leaders.

For us who used to live in the slums, our bullying experience began in the neighborhood.

Those who lived in high-walled houses had to wait until the first grade for those who lived in high-walled houses.

If we want to stop bullying in schools and our neighborhoods, we need a deliberate campaign to stomp out all forms of bullying.

Unfortunately, as long as we elect bullies and idolize them in movies, we will continue to grow bullies around us.

We elect bullies.

Nestor was a kagawad before he became a kapitan. It was rumored that those who killed the former Kapitan were his buddies. Since then, he has been a Kapitan for seven terms. His campaign was always about him being the “Kaibigan ng Lahat,” a friend of all. But he is also known as the tough guy who beats up the troublemakers in the neighborhood.

Mario has been a mayor for more than 20 years. His wife replaced him when his three terms ended. He is known for buying the loyalty of those in the slums who have killed people. He mediated and sometimes paid for the settlements. Nobody wants to cross his path. Those who support him get jobs, even if they cannot get the job done.

He would have campaigned for another re-election if he were not so sick. His wife lost to someone who bought more votes.

Mayor Sara punched a sheriff who was executing a lawful order. It was shown on TV. And people loved her even more for this.

People get entertained when they watch bullies beating up government employees. Never mind that the bully was the mayor herself.

Reynaldo’s campaign for Congress was that he was a native of his town. He fought with thugs, and thugs fought for him.

He is famous because he drinks with the tambays. He is one of them, he said. He never talked about any legislative program that he’ll strive to pass in Congress.

For the past years, politicians have used social media to bully us. Disente and dissent are not cool; Duterte is.

I have nothing against Rodrigo. I am only against what he represented: the bully who got the votes of bystanders.

We need to change our paradigm.

Changing our models is not easy, I know.

On paper, Leni Robredo was the best candidate during the elections of 2022.

She was the candidate for good governance. She has the best credentials.

She is sensible, creative, courageous, and practical. She brings people together.

No doubt that even without a massive campaign chest, more than a million volunteers congregate at her rallies. Many are students who care to study their candidates. Many supporters are middle-class, educated Filipinos.

I called them volunteers because they spent money when they joined those rallies. In Philippine politics, people from slums expect to get paid. I speak from experience.

Robredo was painted as weak and her followers self-righteous by an army of paid trolls.

People follow the bold, brave, and strong.

Bullies are bold and brave – and are willing to beat you up to get what they desire.

Robredo was bullied. Her followers were bullied. Ordinary people were ridiculed by those who pretended to be Robredo supporters.

Bullies conned Filipinos into thinking that being good is fake and that every politician is corrupt.

Teach our kids good citizenship.

Bullying is part of the early education of our political leaders. Unless we rehabilitate bullies, most of them will become our leaders. And those young bystanders who follow bullies will elect them to office.

Educators pay more attention to teaching languages, mathematics, science, and technology in schools.

We must not forget the basics. We need to teach our young children empathy, compassion, and being good to all people. We ought to train our people to become good citizens.

Good citizens are not bullies.

Based on what I learned from his speeches, I have no doubt that Duterte is a bully. Of course, his followers are quick to defend his actions. To them, he was simply a strongman.

The rhetoric is that we need a strongman to impose discipline among Filipinos. Unfortunately, many of us did not care to understand what a strongman is.

A strongman is a leader who rules by the exercise of threats, force, or violence. In a democracy, that is worst than bullying.

There is no published study on the impact of Duterte on bullying in schools. It is likely because the last three years of his Presidency allowed him to keep Filipinos at home.

Before that, however, posts on social media kids who speak like Duterte. They curse a lot. It was evident that cyberbullying became an in thing. And they could make that happen as long as they support the President. Besides, the government hyperfocused on the drug campaign dwarfed all other issues including education, job, and housing.

Duterte propagandists advanced that those who were not doing anything bad had no reason to be afraid. But more than 30,000 people were killed for mere suspicion, and most of their cases remain unresolved until this day.

During his time, law enforcers became arrogant. It was as if they were given the license to kill, especially when the president promised to provide them with presidential pardons. In 2018, police officers were convicted for killing Kian delos Santos and others. The politician Duterte was not able to pardon them.

You can easily contrast the attitude of law enforcers during the Bong Bong Marcos presidency against that of Duterte. BBM’s propagandists portrayed him as a polite politician. And they changed their tune.

Based on Duterte’s claim, the population of drug addicts in the Philippines multiplied. But BBM did not order the continuation of Tokhang. Everyone is talking about the worsening economy — and most people forgot about the more than 30,000 people who were killed because of the drug campaign.

Evidently, the leader models the way. A bully leader makes government officials bullies too.

Popular Articles


Have questions or need help? Use the form to reach out and we will be in touch with you as quickly as possible.

Scroll to Top